The Story Behind the Headlines, organized by the Center for Global Development and the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Okonjo-Iweala revealed how a former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu and his counterparts ‘wrongly’ advised former President Goodluck Jonathan to announce the withdrawal of fuel subsidy on January 1, 2012.
The former Nigerian finance minister, recalled how the move was “ill timed and wrong.”
She wrote the practical obstacles in fighting corruption in Nigeria. It is both technical and deeply personal. Very seldom has a policymaker, who has been on the frontlines, courageously exposed the internal forces of corruption in such a rigorous and candid manner.
“There were some debates within the Economic Management Team as to whether fuel subsidies should be phased out in stages or in one fell swoop. The consensus was that experience in Nigeria had shown that even a small partial phase-out would draw the same large protests as a complete phase-out, so the feeling of the team was, ‘why die in stages?’ Perhaps, it was better to do all at once. There was overwhelming agreement that such an action would require a period of communication and education of the public, to build a larger consensus on the matter. To this end, an important televised public debate was organised in Lagos. The feedback from participants was that the public felt better educated about the benefits and drawbacks of the subsidy. It was clear that the audience felt that there was a lot of fraud in the system.
“The debate took place in early December 2011 and it was agreed that the remaining public debates would take place after the Christmas and the New Year holidays.
“There was a tentative understanding that January to March 2012 would be used for further debates and communication with the public with a tentative implementation of the subsidy phase-out in April 2102.
“On the morning of December 31, I received a shocking call from my friend and colleague, Professor Sylvester Monye, special adviser to the President on Performance Monitoring, telling me he had just heard something strange and was calling to check if I was aware of it. He had run into a senior official from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) who told him that the president was going to announce the phase-out of the fuel subsidy on January 1. I was taken aback. It made no sense in the light of the agreement we had reached to educate the public further before implementation.
“I tried all day December 31 and stayed up all night trying to get the president but I was told by ‘Control’ that he was unable to speak on the phone, even though he was always exceedingly generous in taking my calls.
“One of the most interesting questions in my mind was who had advised the president to make the premature announcement on January 1 about phasing out the subsidy? I wanted to know because I had become the scapegoat for the action.
“It was not until a meeting of the NEC, weeks later, when the issue was under discussion, that Babangida Aliyu, former governor of Niger State and then chair of the Northern Governors’ Forum, bravely acknowledged that it was the governors who had urged the president not to delay any longer but to announce the subsidy phase-out at the beginning of the year. The mystery was solved, but, I found it incredible that none of the governors came to the rescue when the policy roiled the nation and that they were content to let others take the blame.”
She disclosed in her book , There are many types of corruption, each of which must be tackled. Grand corruption and political corruption stem from an abuse of high-level power for personal gain, or to benefit a few cronies. It is probably the most difficult to root out. Yet petty corruption is corrosive as well and felt more immediately by ordinary people. Eliminating crooked traffic cops or local police collecting bribes helps persuade people that a broader anti-corruption campaign is underway.
there are few instruments to fight grand corruption precisely because those in power benefit so much from the system. For example, in Nigeria, the Finance Ministry was not in control of oil revenues—rather, they simply received funds from the Federal Ministry of Petroleum. Instruments such as introduction of an electronic payment system, biometric identification of government workers, and transparent reporting of transfers to state governments all helped to reduce opportunities for fraud and waste.
Okonjo-Iweala highlight corruption in the developing world more broadly, the obstacles to eradicating it, and the risks to those who choose to fight it. These objectives have been achieved.
Okonjo-Iweala, who was responding to why she served a government perceived to have superintended over the highest form of corruption that deprived Nigerians said, “On the question of superintending over corruption, yes many people asked the question, why did you go, why didn’t you didn’t you resign, these are very good questions and I tackled them in the book.
“I say this is a dilemma. I could easily have stayed away, that is the easy answer. Don’t you ask yourself why was I going, why will I put myself through what I went through? It is so easy to do what you said, to let go. But when I talked to many people they are not willing to put themselves on the line or what happened to my family to put my family in danger.
“I didn’t know at the time what I was putting my family in danger obviously, I wouldn’t have consciously done that but I knew I was going to suffer some consequences. But I went because it begins with you. If all of us say we are not going to do anything about it, I think there are at times when resigning sends the correct signal or not going.
“But there are at times when it doesn’t work, you just have to go there and fight and do what you can. And then the efforts to prevent me from coming at all, the thing wasn’t meant to say anything other than just to set the context for the story when I talked about Donald Duke.
“He was conveying a message to me from people including people who said they were my friends telling me not to come. But when I asked why and you will see it in the book, they said so as not to give the government credibility. My feeling was that at some stage, you need to take a stand. And once I got there I actually saw that people were actively trying to get me to go and that is why I didn’t resign.
“So people want to know why didn’t you resign, after they took my mother? And they were discussing how they were going to dispose of her body to her hearing, and after all these attacks. They told me that to get my mother back it was not money they were looking for, that I should go and resign publicly on television and leave the country to come back to America from where I came. That’s why I didn’t resign.
“My father said ‘you are not going anywhere’ and he said ‘your mother and I have lived past…’ you know my father use to make this joke, he is a mathematical economist but a demographer by profession. And he said, ‘we have lived past our due date. So just get used to it she may not come back. But if they are trying to use that to blackmail you, you are not going anywhere, you won’t resign.’
“He was like a rock. And after we went through all that experience, I said if they are so desperate to threaten my mother, threaten me and so on then I must be doing something